COVID-19 Comms: Communications amid an Infodemic – What can Businesses Learn from Governments?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a clear communications plan is integral to responding to a public health crisis. What makes the current pandemic more dangerous is the spread of rumors and false information that would fuel an information epidemic or infodemic.
Without authoritative news sources, this creates opportunities for the spreading of fake news and falsehoods, especially on the internet. Providing the public with information that comes straight from the source in a timely manner can become an important “vaccine” as the world is reeling from the effects of COVID-19.
News consumption & trust
In a PR Newswire webinar in May, Alyssa McDonald, Managing Editor of Bloomberg Asia Digital shared that news consumption by Asian audiences have exploded since COVID-19 entered the news cycle. Bloomberg Asia has seen a fourfold increase in the number of its online subscribers as compared to the same period last year.
According to an Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, which was conducted across 10 countries, mainstream media organizations (64%) continue to be the most trusted source of information since the start of COVID-19 and are more trusted relative to social media (38%).
“City leaders are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response and need to identify and prioritize resources for their vulnerable communities,” said Lauren Sorkin, Acting Executive Director of Global Resilient Cities Network, “Communication is key. As we’ve seen in certain cities, an example of which is Singapore, clear and frequent messaging about the risks can go a long way in significantly helping to limit transmission.”
As countries emerge from mandatory social distancing measures, it is vital to keep the public up to date with trustworthy information in a timely manner and curb the spread of rumors online. Singapore emerged from its “circuit-breaker” measures in early June, with its government constantly communicating the latest infection figures, policy changes and tips for staying healthy on its official website. It also adopted a multi-channel approach to amplification on social media platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp to keep their citizens updated.
Government communications in a post-COVID-19 landscape
What messages are governments around the world communicating as they transit to the recovery phase? What lessons on crisis recovery and effective communications can businesses learn from these measures? Here are some examples from government press releases that were distributed via PR Newswire.
- The Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy
The Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy is implementing CHS (Cleanliness, Health, and Safety) program in Indonesian locations related to tourism and creative economy as a strategy to accelerate the recovery of tourism and creative economy sector after COVID-19, with Bali becoming the pilot project. This release demonstrates Indonesia’s commitment to addressing tourists’ concerns that emerged with COVID-19. As the world-famous tourism destination, Bali is associated with this scheme, prominent news media such as The Daily Mail and travel media such as TTG Asia have published related reports.
Over the past month, the ministry has also rolled out other initiatives to get the travel and tourism sector back on its feet. It co-launched “Indonesia Care” a national campaign to implement health protocols and verification in order to present clean, healthy, safe, and environmentally sustainable destinations, and issued a release on urging Indonesia’s social investment community to develop the country’s tourism and creative economy sector through crowdfunding, partnerships and philanthropic investment.
- Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau
40 business events in Thailand will move online or achieve enhanced online presence this year with the support of Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau. This release indicated that these events span a diversity of industries such as toys, sports, design, digital content industries, tourism, and medicine. The release also highlighted the Thailand Toy Expo 2020, which was held virtually and drew an audience of over 72,000.
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore
As COVID-19 hits countries across the world, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan participated in a high-level video conference was chaired by PRC State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi. The conference was also attended by 24 other countries, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme. This release showed Singapore’s willingness to collaborate while highlighting its strategic position as a small and open economy to keep global trade flowing and supply chains connected.
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Since mid-February 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent Daily Roundups of its Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates as well as related articles on a regular basis. By sending news releases based on a schedule, the FDA has communicated this critical information to thousands of media websites and expanded its audiences, while creating a long-tail search engine optimization (SEO) effect.
Post-COVID-19 communications from brands
With many countries worldwide seeking to recover from COVID-19, crisis recovery is still on the minds of media organizations. They are likely to focus on how businesses are recovering during this critical period while adhering to the COVID-19 containment measures by the governments.
According to Cision’s 2020 State of the Media report, journalists indicated that finding the local news angle is especially important at the moment. Many of the respondents place emphasis on proximity as they are only interested in local news pitches as containment measures vary across different locations. Journalists are realistic about COVID-19 fatigue setting in on audiences, but as this is a fluid situation most audiences still want regular updates, especially on a local level.
As such, businesses need to consider the expectations of their audiences and keep in mind government initiatives to craft more relevant messages. Here are some examples of what brands are communicating during the recovery phase.
- Industry: Serve as a bridge between your industry and government. WeChat collaborated with the World Health Organization and Facebook to launch a hackathon to help the fight against the coronavirus pandemic with technology; IBM launches Watson Assistant for Citizens, leveraging AI to help governments worldwide make relevant data available to their citizens.
- Company: Highlight how companies are recovering and helping other communities or businesses. Cisco has launched a new financing programme to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia purchase its products at 0% interest, with no upfront costs, and at a fixed 3-year monthly payment term; Airbnb unveils a new curated collection of online cooking experiences in Singapore to support the local F&B industry’s recovery.
- Product: Leverage the power of technology. MetroResidences, a leading tech-driven accommodation company, has introduced four initiatives designed to restore consumer confidence for its customers in the wake of COVID-19; Intel initiates a plan to battle the epidemic through technologies and committed US$50 million for the fight against COVID-19.
As the world emerges from COVID-19, action-oriented content is king, relevance is key, while news distribution is the final touch to deliver information to readers, journalists, investors and search engines. News releases will continue to play an important role for businesses whose approach and strategy are in line with COVID-19 containment initiatives of the relevant governments.
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This article is written by Cathy Zhao, Supervisor of Operations at PR Newswire.